According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, almost everyone who starts doing drugs does so because a friend or family member introduces it to them. Drug use, abuse and addiction remain a part of our society’s interwoven personal relationships. We all “know a guy who knows a guy” who has access to drugs, but how do these relationships affect the justice process?

In North Carolina, it is illegal for a person to sell, deliver or possess a controlled substance. Authorities are making more of an effort to punish users, friends and dealers alike to combat the growing opioid crisis. This means if you are arrested for drug use, authorities could investigate how you obtained the drugs and go after the people who provided them.

Charges others who are involved

This can have specific consequences for friends and loved ones of those arrested because they could be charged with providing the drugs. A recent high-profile case in Pennsylvania reveals the penalties a person can face if they are involved in a transaction. In the case, a neighbor asked another to pick up a small amount of heroin. The heroin was laced with fentanyl and the neighbor who consumed it died of an overdose.

Now, authorities have charged the neighbor who provided the heroin with third-degree murder even though she did not know that it was laced with fentanyl. Simply the act of delivering the drug to her neighbor may be enough to convict her on the charges.

Finding dignity and justice in the process

Authorities say that charging someone in drug-death cases is a way to dignify the deceased person and to show that their life matters despite the stigma that could come with an overdose, according to NPR.

However, people who face charges for drug crimes – or worse – in these cases are entitled to their rights in the process as well. Every criminal justice case centers on rehabilitating the person convicted of the offense while providing retribution to society as a whole.

It’s about balance

Where the balance centers itself in the Pennsylvania case remains to be seen, but the case has implications for everyone charged with drug crimes. Justice may not look like a harsh prison sentence. Instead, it could consist of a reduction or dismissal of charges or a plea agreement to enter treatment. The opioid epidemic is changing how authorities pursue drug crimes, but it doesn’t change the constitutional rights you are entitled to after an arrest.